A Foreign Office minister made an “improper approach” to the widow of Alexander Litvinenko while David Cameron was having talks with Vladimir Putin, it was claimed today.
• A Foreign Office aide has been accused of making an “improper approach” the widow of Alexander Litvinenko
• Marina Litvinenko was allegedly contacted by an aide of David Lidington while talks between David Cameron and Vladimir Putin were being held
• Sir Robert Owen, assistant deputy coroner for Inner North London, said move is “astonishing”
An aide of David Lidington called Marina Litvinenko to organise a telephone chat between them while the Prime Minister met the Russian leader in Sochi last month, a pre-inquest hearing into the spy’s poisoning death was told.
Although the hearing was told the conversation did not eventually take place, Sir Robert Owen, assistant deputy coroner for Inner North London, said he was “astonished” to learn it was attempted without going through legal channels.
Ben Emmerson QC, who is representing the spy’s widow, told the hearing at the High Court a ministerial aide to Mr Lidington had made a “direct approach” by calling her.
But Mr Lidington had not called because the talks between the leaders had not moved beyond un-related security issues and the Syrian conflict.
He described it as “quite improper” for a minister from a department involved in the inquest to contact her without the knowledge of her legal team.
He said it was part of a “pattern of behaviour in the case”.
“It is a matter of great concern that this type of approach is taking place,” he said.
Sir Robert replied: “I have to say I am astonished.”
Mr Litvinenko, 43, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square in 2006.
Last week the coroner announced he had written to the Government to request a public inquiry in place of an inquest.
He had previously ruled he could not hear evidence linked to the alleged involvement of the Russian government in public and could therefore not conduct a full and thorough investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s death.
Mr Emmerson told today’s hearing that Mrs Litvinenko may refuse to take part in the inquest if the Government did not agree to a public inquiry.
“We are at a loss to see a good-faith reason to prevent a hearing which could get at the truth from going ahead,” he said.
Neil Garnham QC, representing various Government departments at the hearing, said the plan for a call to Mrs Litvinenko had simply been a “common courtesy” to tell her about the Black Sea talks between the two leaders had gone ahead before she read about it in the press.
“It was thought it was a more courteous way of dealing with what was going to come as a surprise to her than the alternative.”
He added that a decision on holding a public inquiry would be made “as quickly as possible” by the Home Office.